Sunday, June 29, 2008
By Andrea Warner
The Dead End Kids were originally a motley assortment of young toughies plucked from obscurity to play kids growing up on New York streets. They went on to find success in Hollywood, and represented the gritty hold-your-breath hopefulness of a generation devastated by the Depression and caught between World Wars.
Orphans plants its roots firmly in this lore: Treat and Philip are brothers who were orphaned as children, but continue to live together in a strangely cozy codependence. Treat has a hair-trigger temper and pays the rent through petty crime. Philip’s allergies keep him locked up inside, imagining a dream world where Errol Flynn is to blame for breaking any other number of Treat’s rules. Their relationship is complex: Treat, the eldest, fought to keep Philip from social services, and his over-protectiveness hasn’t waned. Rather, it’s a metaphorical hug that’s squeezing the life out of Philip’s body. When Treat brings home Harold, no one is prepared for the wedge it will drive between the brothers, forcing them both to grow up beyond their fragile existence.
It’s best not to dwell too much on Orphans’ story, and regard it instead as a springboard for three wonderful performances, nurtured by director Stephen Drover. Andrew McNee’s Treat is a whirlwind of bravado and anger, and it’s entirely to his credit that Treat never becomes a “bad guy” despite his actions. It’s fascinating to watch McNee convey the constant threat Treat feels every time Philip makes the slightest movement towards independence; even Philip teaching himself to read becomes a battle.
Michael Charrois plays Harold, the man who finally comes between the brothers. His quick-as-lightening turn from victim to victor is delightful, particularly as he attempts to bring Treat’s lawlessness into focus. He’s part tender father, part dangerous outsider and lends a certain funny creepiness to his perpetual offering of “encouragement.” Harold’s motivations seem to rest entirely on his fondness for “dead end kids,” as he calls Treat and Philip, but Charrois isn’t provided with enough material to make Harold anything more than a convenient catalyst to the story.
Last but not least, Michael Rinaldi steals the show (much the way he did in The Dissemblers) with his charming embodiment of Philip’s naïve curiousity. Rinaldi’s a gifted physical comedian who infuses Philip with a believable desire to challenge himself and the status quo (re: Treat.) Philip’s gentle attachment to a high-heeled shoe and his wild imagination are perfect fodder for Rinaldi’s brand of graceful boyishness, and Philip’s transformation into a man is heartening to watch.
The production values are simple and effective. A coffee table becomes it’s own stage as a platform for all three actors to alternately sit, lay, stand, or jump on. A television set’s soft grey glare provides the only light on Treat’s sad face as he realizes Philip is finally stretching his wings.
Ultimately, Orphans shortcomings lie in the hands of playwright Lyle Kessler. The story arc feels rushed, the second half lulls in two of its four scenes, and a throw-away line hints at a major plot point but instead becomes a nagging question that goes unanswered. The script’s biggest crime, though, is the tidy bow it wraps around Treat’s metamorphoses: it comes way too quickly, and shortchanges everyone involved.
Yet, the acting makes this a show worth seeing; it’s owed entirely to the talented cast that Orphans finds a home inside its audience at all.
Friday, June 27, 2008
By Andrea Warner
Lots of people rely on social lubricant (i.e. getting drunk) to take them from “You come here often?” to “Can I fix you some breakfast?”
Unfortunately, the path from A rarely leads to B, so think of the Dating Doctor, Daniel Packard, as your personal guide through the twisted and thorny trappings of Flirting 101.
Packard got his start as a comedian before launching his wildly successful and controversial show, Live Group Sex Therapy. Recognizing that everyone needs help hooking up, he’s now made a career out of it. His work has taken him to locales as far-flung as Dubai and Greece, and his monthly FlirtFest nights with the Rendezvous Club in Vancouver are proving to be sold-out celebrations of female empowerment and male wish fulfillment, of which he guarantees the clientele is “very attractive.”
The WestEnder talked with Packard about what women want, the biggest misconceptions about men, and how our high school days are never far behind us.
What made you decide to go into this line of work?
High school was my Vietnam. That was my defining emotional experience, and it didn’t go well. I was always a guy I thought was a “catch.” I had a lot to offer, and I’d listen to girls and I heard the things they wanted and I was that, and I found how hard it was for me to connect with women. Part of the teenage adolescent in me, you know, up until about five minutes ago, was lonely and frustrated. I know how hard it can be for people to connect. I guess it came from a certain amount of loneliness and sadness, like any great art, and I’ve just tried to take that negative and turn it into a positive for everybody.
How would you describe FlirtFest?
Essentially, it’s every woman in control and every guy in heaven.
I’ve heard the word “empowered” bandied about…
I want to empower women. I find that in this culture women are enabled to blame men a lot, and no one will really interrupt you. You know, when girls are sitting around talking, and they say “Oh my god, this thing happened”, and the friend doesn’t turn around and say, “Well, let’s take a good long look at your role in the dynamics so you can avoid this pattern in the future.” Men are such easy targets, you know. But anytime somebody blames or gets frustrated, they are not taking responsibility for their actions and then they can’t improve the situation.
You talk a bit about high school. I guess it would be hard to leave certain behaviours behind.
Well, yeah, it’s really hard. And most people will blame until an external force forces you to grow up. And, because men are generally the pursuers, women don’t have to grow up in this area of pursuit. Men will do the work; we’re the hunters. Most women spend a lot of energy in terms of looking cuter, but they don’t spend a lot of energy in terms of becoming emotionally stronger when it comes to going after men.
Would you say you get to be in the very unique position of telling women how to grow up?
I don’t like to say, “Grow up.” I have a lot of compassion and understanding for it—I’m growing up myself. When you’re a guy talking to hundreds of women simultaneously and you say “grow up,” the female mafia will quickly lock arms and take you down. When I first started this, I thought the women would go, “Oh, wow, thanks for the information,” but they just hated me. This was before I knew what I was doing.
What’s the biggest misconception women have about men?
The first is that men like the chase, and the second is that if you sleep with a man too quickly he’ll think you’re a slut. And while there’s a sliver of truth in there, these are basically perpetuated by the female culture. If you believe men like the chase, then guess what? You can avoid walking up to a guy, pursuing him, and getting rejected. You never have to put your ego on the line. And, women have a lot of judgment around sexuality, and they think men have it too, but we don’t.
Have you ever had the women try to pursue you towards the end of the event?
Oh yeah! I’m the alpha male, baby!
For more information about FlirtFest go to www.danielpackard.com
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Ben Stein interview
By Andrea Warner
He has given the world an opportunity to win his money, droned memorably about red eyes, and asked that timeless question: “Bueller…Bueller?” He was valedictorian of his Yale law class, a speechwriter for Nixon, and currently writes a finance column for the New York Times Business Section and Yahoo! Finance.
The question now: Who is Ben Stein? A Darwin-hating, right-wing sensationalist or just a guy willing to throw his reputation on the line fighting for freedom of speech?
Stein’s new movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, doesn’t provide any easy answers. The actor/economist/lawyer co-wrote and stars in Expelled, and begins by making the case that the scientific academia is silencing, censoring, and punishing the “rebel” scientists who dare to question Darwin’s theories in favour of Intelligent Design, which presumes an intentional design or architecture to human existence.
To say Expelled has been polarizing would be an understatement. Internet sites have sprung up to debunk the film’s assertions, and Richard Dawkins, avowed atheist and writer of The God Delusion, claims he was duped into participating along with several other scientists, who believed they were being interviewed for a much more secular documentary called Crossroads about the “intersection of science and religion.”
But for all the fervor, plenty of people feel Expelled finally provides a voice for their views. And the outrage from scientists and atheists just fuels Stein’s fire, making him a man in high demand with little time to spare. The WestEnder got a chance to talk (2 minutes 26 seconds to be precise) with Stein about his new role as the poster boy for Intelligent Design, his hopes for the film, and how ego is his driving force.
This movie has sparked a lot of controversy. Why do you think that is, and was it intentional on your part?
It wasn’t intentional on my part at all. I had no idea, and I’m not sure why it sparked so much controversy. I think it’s because people are afraid of God and they think that we’re trying to force God down their throats and that’s the farthest thing from the truth. If people don’t want to believe in God, that’s their business, but I think there’s some confusion in people’s minds about what our intention is here and it’s frightening them.
What was your intention with the film?
To teach, to tell people about a threat to free speech, and the Darwinian establishment refusing to allow even the most obvious questioning of Darwinism’s relevance.
When did you first become interested in Intelligent Design and making this film?
We where inspired to make this film in 2005 because we know that great advances in science and technology can only happen when there is a free and open environment in research and development. In today's Universities and research departments there is the clamp down on excepted orthodoxies and if there is a mechanism discovered that is in direct contradiction to the Darwinian orthodoxy, that discovery is hushed up.
What, if any, are your concerns regarding the public's reaction to this film? Are you worried about your reputation?
No I am not at all concerned.... I have always been a rebel of sorts.
Scientific American devoted a whole article called "Six things Ben Stein doesn't want you to know about Expelled". Have you read it? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
I have not read the Scientific American article or many of the other articles that have come out strongly against our film. We where fully expecting these articles to come out because we are exposing these very people and their tactics to suppress.
A lot of people have been attacking you, saying you “hate science.” How do you respond?
I know. I don’t understand where that comes from. I have no idea. What I said was science can be used for good or bad. [Note: Stein was recently quoted from an interview with Paul Crouch Jr. as saying “Science leads to killing people.”] There can be science that helps people and cures people and makes their lives easier, and there can be science which gasses people and different kinds of science. I don’t see how anyone can question that. People will say anything, any kind of nonsense that comes to their head. I’m afraid that’s sort of what’s happened now.
Intelligent Design, game shows, law, Ferris Bueller—what’s the connection between all these facets of your personality?
Hmmm…I think all get me in the limelight. (Laughs) I think the connection is they all focus attention on me.
So it’s the Ben Stein show?
Monday, June 23, 2008
Wishing bad karma on guests who plunk their drinks on your brand-new coffee table won’t make those white rings go away. But thanks to Vancouver designer Amanda Weedmark, we can now keep our furniture—and relationships—pristine with her Creating Good Karma tile coasters. With two designs in five subtle colours, the coasters are practical for every coffee table (yes, even that classic Danish modern number you scored last weekend). The company hopes to spark positive change by donating a portion from every sale to charity—so here’s a chance to give your buying habit a higher purpose. creatinggoodkarma.com —Andrea Warner
So Pretty, So Practical
Plastic bags are so passé, especially when you can pack your goods into an AuMarché sturdy and sustainable shoulder-slung sensation. Each roomy tote boasts original artwork by owner Keiko Lee-Hem, whose vivid designs include fennel hearts, sassy summer bouquets, and multi-coloured asparagus. The bags are 55 per cent hemp (the rest is cotton) and fortified with reinforced handles, so you can feel confident schlepping home that 20-lb winter melon you scored in Chinatown, or several of your favourite bottles of vino on your weekly, er, monthly trip to the liquor mart. Bag yours at the Vancouver Art Gallery Shop (750 Hornby St.), or aumarchebags.com. —AW
When a tree falls in the forest, the keen ears over at Clayoquot Crafts hear. The Tofino company uses only salvaged red cedar for its award-winning patio furniture that’s sprucing up decks and gardens all over the world. An eco-friendly collaboration between Daniel Lamarche, owner and creator, and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation people, Clayoquot has earned rave reviews for its benches, Cape Cod chairs, and outdoor dining sets. Requiring little upkeep, and built to withstand the temperamental B.C. weather, these pieces are ideal for watching the waves crash onto the beach, or stargazing in your own backyard. Order online at clayoquotcrafts.com.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
King Lear review
By Andrea Warner
This ain’t your high school English class’s King Lear. This is your liberal arts college re-imagining King Lear as part comedy, part musical, and part morality tale to show everyone how daringly innovative they are. Get it?
King Lear isn’t the most complex of Shakespeare’s works, but the web of familial deception still packs plenty of modern punch. King Lear banishes the only daughter who truly loves him, Cordelia, because she fails to kiss his ass the way his other daughters, Goneril and Regan, do. Meanwhile, Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, schemes to turn his brother and father against one and other. Everyone’s evil plans unravel in a series of bloody confrontations that come like puncture wounds throughout the last few minutes of the first half and the entire second half.
The story has stayed the same, but Bard on the Beach’s updates to the bloody tragedy take wild liberties that mess with the audience’s expectations, and the results are alternately frustrating and fantastic.
This Lear is a twisted relic, swimming in a wheelchair and a grandfatherly cardigan, his mind starting to corrupt memory and reality as he succumbs to advancing Alzheimer’s.
This Lear’s first half is infused with so much dark humour, sight gags, and laugh-out-loud moments, it feels more like a night at Yuk Yuks than an evening of Shakespeare.
This Lear has a song in his heart and back-up musicians to boot.
Plenty of director James Fagan Tait’s risks work, largely because the cast is an accomplished crew of established and new faces. Robert Moloney (The Glass Menagerie) infuses Edmund with lots of devilish charm, and is a wry and wonderful presence even at his most fiendish. Patti Allen has plenty of bite and sass as Nurse, the only one who seems to be able to tell King Lear the truth. And, Christopher Gaze is given wide range to zigzag powerfully between Lear’s lucid triumphant moments and his descent inside his own crumbling mind.
The cast is also tasked with singing, playing instruments, and providing sound effects like the devastating storm that forces Lear to seek refuge in a hovel. The singing is best reserved for comedic effect, and works fairly well throughout the first act. The second act packs more emotionally turbulent material, and the songs feel heavy-handed. They prove an unfortunate distraction from the actual acting and dialogue.
This is King Lear’s real triumph, and it’s hundreds of years old: language. The insults Lear spits at his daughters are vicious, visceral, and funny. His revelations feel as fresh today as they did then, particularly when he realizes the lip service he was paid throughout his life, admitting ruefully, “They told me I was everything. ‘Tis a lie.” The lessons Lear learns come late in life and are perched atop an incredibly high body count.
Though it earns high marks for innovation, this production doesn’t quite make the grade in effectiveness. Ultimately, this Lear is less a King and more a Prince.
Monday, June 9, 2008
My review of Finn's Girl appears in the current Westender.
By Andrea Warner
Finn’s Girl, the clunky Canadian drama, peels away its layers with all the subtlety of a flasher in a trench coat. Though there are many good elements (strong female characters, great actors, a 21st century take on sexuality and family), there are also lots of unnecessary plot twists, melodrama, and miles of back-story that all but drown Finn’s Girl in a bloated sea of good intentions.
Finn is silver-haired, no-nonsense doctor who rides a motorcycle, walks with a sexy swagger, and is on the rebound after her wife, Nancy’s, death. She’s also raising their daughter, Zelly, a precocious pre-pubescent with a penchant for shoplifting, smoking dope, and telling the babysitter to “fuck off.”
Finn’s sinking under her parental obligations, and desperately trying to keep Nancy’s abortion clinic afloat amidst violent threats and sniper attacks. Two cops keep her under 24-hour surveillance, and become enmeshed in Finn and Zelly’s lives as the threats escalate.
Brooke Johnson infuses Finn with a realistic combination of tough-talking helplessness, and Maya Ritter is fantastic as Zelly, a brilliant but lonely kid who is just trying to figure out who she is. Yanna McIntosh is a lovely and stoic addition to this duo as Diana, the cop who becomes so central to their lives. If this had been the extent of the story, Finn’s Girl would be a better film. But, there’s an entire subplot regarding Zelly’s conception, Finn’s previous work as part of a fertility drug-trial, and Zelly’s father, all of which feels like a year’s worth of television programming on the CBC condensed into 88 minutes, making Finn’s Girl impossible to fully embrace.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Memphis wishes, rock star dreams
Eight years in, everyone thinks Memphis (the band) is still a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll
By Andrea Warner
Twelve years ago, Jeremy Thompson and his cousin, Scott Morgan, were sowing some oats and wearing out their tire treads on a road trip to California. The two fell hard for Memphis, and when they started looking for a name to christen their new band, Elvis’s homeland seemed a natural fit for their rockabilly sound. Thompson admits that since their “Eureka!” moment, the band has often been dismissed as a country outfit based simply on Memphis’s physical proximity to Nashville. In reality, Memphis the band is more button-down shirts with ripped jeans discretely hiding their cowboy boots, than full ranch hand chic.
“I keep trying to tell everyone that Nashville’s six hours east of Memphis, but it hasn’t quite worked out as I thought,” Thompson laughs.
Memphis is the perfect band for fans of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, or anyone who appreciates songs that tell stories with a bit of blues, funk, and twang. Morgan is Memphis’ voice, and his rough growl is the stuff of back roads and beer, rollicking and rich where called for, and Walker’s drums provide a great backbone to the majority of Memphis’s songs. The cousins are joined by Shannon Morgan (percussion), Ryan Davis (bass), and Peter Lucey (keys and accordion), and help flesh out Memphis’s unique cross blend of sounds and influences. One of their most popular songs, “Fallen Down,” is a beautiful, bluesy ballad that harkens back to the scratchy-throat slumber of an old Tom Waits song.
Though most members of Memphis still hold down day jobs (Morgan is a published author!), they try to go on one small tour every year. Thompson admits the band is still awaiting their big break, but he’s ready for it.
“I have not experienced anything in my life that compares to being on stage with four other people,” Thompson says. “Myself and the bass player, we just want to tour and be out doing what we do best, and that’s play music.”
Thompson would like to see Memphis’s trajectory be something akin to that of Phish or Widespread Panic or Government Mule; independent but with a big enough following to move Memphis to the next level.
“We’re not Daughtry being played once every two and half hours in six radio stations just in my town,” Thompson says. “We’re not corporate. We’re not mainstream. Bands like The Mississippi All Stars have said, ‘We have the means to do it ourselves are out there, we’re going to show you we can do it, keep our fans, and keep it alive’ I really like that.”
But Thompson can’t help but hold one rock star dream close. It’s deceptively simple, hedonistic, and just a little juvenile.
“I’ve always wanted to throw a television out the window of a hotel room,” he laughs again. “But, the other members of the band keep me straight. On the next tour we’re going to take the TV with us, so we can throw it out the window and not be charged with any damages.” A gentlemanly approach, but keep your eyes to the skies if Memphis comes to your town.
Monday, June 2, 2008
The front pages of local papers have become little more than a running tally for the body count succumbing to gang violence. Baljit Sangra’s new documentary, Warrior Boyz, packs a punch that hits uncomfortably close to home, tackling Indo-Canadian gangs in Surrey, and the teenage wannabes risking their lives to belong.
Jagdeep is the unofficial elder statesmen, sharing his story with at-risk teens. He’s a tough-talking ex-gang member, lean and fierce, and the residual anger of his youth still infuses his words as he recalls the perpetual racism he faced as a young immigrant in the Lower Mainland, and the escalating violence that inevitably resulted in a jail sentence.
It’s a pattern the audience sees repeating in 15-year-old Tanvir’s life. The downward spiral is almost dizzying, as he’s kicked out of his home and out of school, and begins to carry a baseball bat for protection. The interviews Sangra conducts with Tanvir are frustrating and frightening: they reveal a good kid making terrible decisions, and it’s devastating to imagine what his future holds.
Warrior Boyz barely cracks the 40-minute mark, but it feels like the start of a crucial conversation that desperately needs to continue. It’s heartening to see educators like Sukh Rai, the vice principal tasked with keeping these kids on track, make such an impact on boys like Vicky, the18-year-old trying to leave his past behind and graduate. Vicky refuses to reveal the extent of his gang involvement, for fear of retaliation, but it’s also the film’s weak spot, compromising the totality of Boyz’s impact as the audience never finds out what’s scared him straight.
By Andrea Warner
A Mexican movie with a skeletal plot and sumptuous visuals, filmed almost entirely in the Plautdietsch dialect of the German language, and cast with virtual unknowns? It’s a dicey experiment and it pays off beautifully for writer/director Carlos Reygadas.
Silent Light traverses a familiar topic with an intriguing twist: adultery, Mennonite style. Johan (Cornelio Wall) is deeply religious, but can’t fight his attraction to Marianne (Maria Pankratz), his lover of two years. Esther (Canadian novelist Miriam Toews) is Johan’s long-suffering wife, a stoic figure in a black dress who’s borne him a brood of blond babies.
The film slowly builds to a tragic climax (will Johan choose lust or family?), and then keeps going for another 15 minutes before its out-of-left-field ending. But, while the plot is interesting in its own way, it’s secondary to the cinematography and direction.
Silent Light is film making at its most prosaic and arty, and it’s incredibly gratifying to watch a camera linger over a scene in today’s style of quick-cuts. The opening shot envelops the audience in all consuming, disorienting darkness, the silence periodically shattered by high-pitched animal cries. It takes about five minutes before the orange glow of sunrise reveals the countryside.
The elements, both natural and manmade are used to wonderful effect: the tick-tock of the clock that looms, unseen, filling up the uncomfortable silence between Johan and Esther over breakfast; the torrential downpour of rain that soaks Esther to the bone as she finally breaks down.
Silent Light is almost confounding in its simplicity and sensory immersion. And though the dialogue is sparse, it will have film buffs talking up a storm.
By Andrea Warner
Mel Brooks has always tackled the taboo. His keenly astute appreciation for satire marched over the boundaries of good taste in 1968, when his film, The Producers, envisioned a hoofing Hitler with a song in his heart. In 2001, The Producers came to Broadway, tauter, tighter, and with lots more T&A. Now the Tony-award smash hit high kicks it’s way to Vancouver, and it feels just as frenzied, funny, and freshly shocking as ever.
The Producers is deliciously daring in its unbridled enthusiasm for dirty jokes, sweeping caricatures, and playful winking at show business. Charming shyster and failing Broadway producer, Max Biaylstock (Jay Brazeau) and the meekly nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Josh Epstein) discover that in the right circumstances, a producer can make more money on a flop than with a success. They hit the poor-taste jackpot with ex-Nazi, Franz, whose Spring Time for Hitler aims to show the softer side of the war criminal.
The cast is fantastic. Jay Brazeau and Josh Epstein as Biaylstock and Bloom offer plenty of chemistry as they fully embody their campy and nefarious alter egos. Jackson Davies is furiously funny as the pigeon-loving, knock-kneed, Hitler enthusiast Franz. Terra C. MacLeod is a revelation as Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who woos Bloom.
The choreography and costumes transcend the confines of the Stanley stage, and create big scale productions that are innovative and hilarious. Particularly, the slew of little old ladies armed with walkers in “Along Came Bialy” and the fetish-wearing spectacular “Springtime for Hitler” are brilliant. Every stereotype meets its match in glorious song and dance extravaganzas: Gays, Nazis, show biz types—no one’s feelings are spared on this stage. Thank God.
Don’t Mess With the Zohan
By Andrea Warner
Raunchy, rude, and kind of racist, Don’t Mess with the Zohan oozes stereotypes and clichés, but without the cleverness of Harold and Kumar the jokes amount to simple sight gags and an escalating array of crotch and hummus jokes, with much “America is good” rhetoric.
Think of this as Adam Sandler’s version of peace talks with the Middle East. Zohan is an Israeli counter terrorist with gravity-defying moves, an untamed libido, and a secret dream to go to America and be a hair stylist. He fakes his death during a fight with his Palestinian enemy, Phantom (John Turturro), and re-emerges in New York City where he gets a job in a salon.
Dahlia, Palestinian and the requisite “beautiful girl,” owns the salon, which happens to sit in a Middle Eastern neighbourhood, where Palestinian shops face Israeli shops. The whole community is at risk from Walbridge, an old rich white guy in a sharp suit, who wants to build a mall.
The political stuff could almost be interesting, and would make for good satire in other hands. But, the movie’s also hampered by stupid subplots: Zohan “makes sticky” with every woman who breathes before falling for Dahlia; Rob Schneider (himself tolerable, his storyline less so) is Zohan’s former foe out for revenge; and then there’s an apparent Middle Eastern obsession with hackey sack and disco.
The cameos come fast and furious, and are the only consistent bright spots throughout. With a script co-written by reigning comedy King Judd Apatow, Zohan should be far funnier. But, when Mariah Carey is the best thing to happen to a film, the jig is up.